Little Assawoman Bay Dredging Effort Called ‘Uphill Battle’

FENWICK ISLAND – A new committee in Fenwick Island is moving forward with ideas to gather support for dredging the Little Assawoman Bay following a well-attended workshop held this summer.

In August, the Town of Fenwick Island invited the community to attend a dredging workshop with Senator Gerald Hocker and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Administrator Tony Pratt in an effort to generate a discussion on dredging the neighboring Little Assawoman Bay and to voice concerns about current safety conditions along its waterways.

While a portion of that meeting was used to inform residents of the money needed to fund dredging projects throughout the state, many attendees called on state and local officials to make a dredging project in the Little Assawoman Bay a priority. They argued growing recreational activities along the bay highlight the need for safer, and deeper, waterways.

In response to the community’s interest, the town has since created a dredging committee, which met for the first time last Friday to continue its fight for excavating the main channels of the nearby bay.

Councilman Bernie Merritt, chair of the dredging committee, said the town’s efforts to secure a dredging project along Little Assawoman Bay would be an “uphill battle.” He told committee members officials would have to seek funding and the support of state officials to make the project a reality.

“It’s critical to be a part of this,” he said.

Town Manager Terry Tieman said the town has advocated for dredging the Little Assawoman Bay since 1997. Last year, Fenwick Island partnered with nearby coastal communities in Delaware to re-form the Association of Coastal Towns (ACT), which advocates for beach- and water-related issues including beach replenishment and dredging.

“We are not alone,” she said. “I think we are stronger together and I think ACT has come to that conclusion.”

Tieman told the committee Fenwick Island and surrounding towns do not meet the Army Corps of Engineers’ metric for receiving federal funding.

“That metric measures the economic impact to an area …,” she told the committee. “You have to have broad economic impact to an area that we just don’t have. Our waterways are currently not used commercially, they are used for recreation.”

Tieman suggested the committee look into conducting an economic study that would measure the economic impact the bay has on Fenwick Island and surrounding towns.

“There has to be a comprehensive study,” she said. “We can’t just look at this as Fenwick’s problem, or Bethany’s or Dewey’s. It’s the whole state’s problem.”

She added the state was also doing its part to secure funding for dredging projects. In addition to raising boat registration fees – which is expected to raise more than $1 million for a systematic dredging program – state officials are working with the Delaware Department of Transportation to utilize a portion of the gas tax, as waterways could be considered a method of transportation.

“I really think the only way this is going to get done is with a combined effort of federal, state, county and local contributions,” she said.

Committee members said dredging the Little Assawoman Bay would improve boat access.

Committee member and Councilwoman Vicki Carmean explained many points along the bay are only accessible during high tide.

“You have to wait for the high tide,” she said. “If you are in low tide, I can’t say you are in deep trouble, you are in shallow trouble.”

Merritt suggested the committee and mayor set up a meeting with DNREC officials to review the findings of a bathymetric study they conducted on the Little Assawoman Bay last year.

“We are trying to set up a meeting with them to go over it and what they think, based on this, what the cost would be,” Tieman told the committee.

Carmean agreed.

“I feel like we’re working in the dark if we don’t have some sort of estimate of the cost,” she said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.